A New Beginning
College kicks off
important role during Civil War
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(June 2012) Historic Eleutherian Inc. is undergoing
a changing of the guard as revitalization plans are under way to bring
the historic site in Lancaster, Ind., back to area prominence.
Back in 1990, the site was purchased for restoration by Jae Breitweiser
and Dottie Reindollar who served as co-directors for many years. Under
their tenure, many repairs and improvements took place, and in 1997
the college was named a National Historic Landmark. However, in recent
years, the group grew less active, even seeing board membership fall
to only three members for a time.
Back in October, Brook Reindollar, son of the late Dottie Reindollar,
began heading up the reorganization and revitalization of the board.
Things needed to be done to get this running he said.
courtesy of Larry DeBuhr
1997, the college was
named a National Historic
Landmark. Today, a board of
directors works on revitalization
efforts to preserve the
Reindollar now serves as president of an interim board
of 12 members that has been busy developing a two-year operating plan
for renewing Eleutherian College. Part of the work being done includes
redesigning the website, recruiting new board members and new volunteers,
and putting together a basic operating budget. Already, the group has
begun to see success in fundraising efforts, having recently received
a grant from the National Historic Trust for board development. Earlier
in the year, the organization was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Jefferson
County Board of Tourism to be used toward the maintenance and upkeep
necessary for the preservation of the historic structure. The VisitMadison
Inc. board has also provided funding assistance.
Board Vice-President Dr. Larry DeBuhr explains that many think
Eleuterian College has disappeared. We need to get people back out there
DeBuhr, executive director at the Rivers Institute at Hanover College,
believes that this group will be able to move ahead to rebuild
an organization that was very active in getting things done.
The Eleutherian College has a storied background of education and activism.
The Eleutherian Institute was founded in 1848 by a group of abolitionists,
and the two-story limestone building that housed the college was built
by 1854. The mission of the college was devoted to the education of
students of all races and genders.
The college saw men and women, black and white studying together and
also served as an important stop for many escaping slaves on the Underground
This was a way stop where they could receive some education before
continuing on their way, explains Camille Fife, Preservation Planner
for the city of Madison. By learning to read and write, the escaping
slaves would be better positioned to pass as free blacks.
The board is working on ways for the site to expand its impact as a
community and educational resource. Fife explains that part of the problem
in studying the history of the Underground Railroad is that very few
contemporary documents are available due to the danger of being associated
with the movement. Most of the writings are from recollections of those
involved years after the fact.
The board expects that the physical site will help build additional
opportunities for scholarship, and there are hopes for archaeological
work to take place on the grounds. Currently, tours of the site are
by appointment only. But plans are being made to have a scheduled series
of tours this summer.
DeBuhr said he hopes that Hanover College students will get involved
in projects related to the historic site and envisions that internships
may be available for students in the future.
courtesy of Larry DeBuhr
founded in 1848
dedicated to the
education of all
of race and gender.
One of the messages we have to get out is that Eleutherian
College is not a local attraction its a regional and
national attraction, he says, while stressing the need for continued
support and study of the area.
In addition to need to preserve the site for historical study, those
who love the college also speak of the power of the building to transport
visitors to another time and get a real sense of what life was like
for those escaping or fighting slavery. Standing high on a hill in Lancaster,
the towering building is an inspiring sight.
Fife says, Ive always imagined what that must have been
like for the escaping slaves to be let out and to see that building
in the moonlight. It is such a symbol.
Eleutherian board members are seeking volunteers to serve in a wide
range of capacities and looking forward to welcoming new faces. They
are eager to bring in those with talents ranging from historical costuming
and tour directing to simply welcoming guests at the Visitors
Center or helping out with simple grounds keeping. Fife stresses that
Eleutherian College is alive and well, welcoming to people who
love the story.
Historic Eleutherian College Inc. can be
found on Facebook or call (812) 273-9434 for volunteer and information.
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